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Topic Title: Guide to System Airflow
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Created On: 04/20/2004 03:08 PM
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 04/20/2004 03:08 PM
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Joined: 01/29/2004

Photos have just been added as of 06.13.2004

Benefits of keeping a clean case
-By producing good airflow, you can use fewer fans and thus reduce system noise.
-You can extend the life of your hardware
-You can reduce the likelihood of other physical stress induced damage

Fan Placement
In many pre-built systems, there is usually only one or two places with fans. In general, this would be the PSU and maybe a fan in the back of the case, both sucking out hot air. The rest of the case is usually perforated for passive airflow. To get the most airflow our of your case, you should have at least one fan in the front bezel (if there are mounting holes for it) to suck in air, a top blow hole with a fan to suck out air, and a fan in the back of the case to suck out air (it's all in the air rises - figure out where it will rise in the case and such it out). In some cases, there are mounting holes at the bottom of the case. In this situation, you would want to have a fan sucking in air. Remember that a lot of fans don't have the flow direction labeled so the general rule of thumb is that the air is blown out from the side of the fan with the manufacturer sticker/label. If anything, plug it in, let it run, and feel where the air is going. Anyway, the general concept is that air in front of the case is cooler being that it is away from the back side of the case where the CPU is pumping out the majority of the hot air. So you want to take cool in air and blow out hot air by creating the general flow to be in from the front and out from the back. And please be careful not to inadvertently create a vacuum in the case by making all the fans suck air out. That will never give you the proper cooling you need (though you will notice far less dust buildup inside the case…. Hehehe)

Case Wiring
Of the many problems that affect cooling, one of the biggest is proper airflow being blocked by bad cluttered wiring. The wires that produce the most clutter are usually the ATX power chord, the 12V wire, and the IDE cables (flat, non rounded). To begin, have wire ties ready! Those will be your best friend for this part of cleanup. First off, isolate the power cables from everything else. Most PSU's have way more cables than you will ever use. As a result, you want to isolate just the ones you want to use, which for most people will be 5, 4 for CD/DVD's and HD's, and 1 for floppy. Isolate these from the entire PSU bundle and leave them hanging somewhere so that you won't lose them. Then isolate the ATX power connect and the 12V connector if necessary. The remainder of the cables can be "hidden." This is a trick most often overlooked. If you have a case big enough, you may notice that there is a space between the PSU and the side panel of the case. Assuming there are not PSU ventilation areas on that side of the PSU, it is possible to take the unused wires, fold them and hide them in that slot sort of like a closet for the cables. Any extras can actually be run through that same area between the PSU and the side panel, and left to hang, spread out, over the backside of the motherboard mounting plate of the case. Simply put the case cover on such that the cables don't interfere with the case or side panel assembly. This is a great way to hide cables that I try to use as often as possible. In doing this, you can remove up to 70% of your cable clutter! Use wire ties as needed to bundle the cables as you hide them.

As for the ATX power connector, this thing is generally quite thick and can block a lot of the air pathway. This bundle of cabling is best installed if you can run it along the edge of the case or the PSU to the motherboard. Depending on your setup, it may be difficult, but there are definitely many ways to run the cable alongside the PSU, along the case, and then to the connector on the motherboard. The entire goal is to remove as much of the cables that may cover the motherboard as possible. You want to maintain as much open space over the motherboard as possible so air can get from point A to B without too much trouble.

And when plugging the power cables to your peripherals, you can definitely be crafty by using the case chassis as a way to snake the cables around such that they are not covering the motherboard. Similarly, you can run the cables in a fashion around the mounting platforms for your peripherals (if applicable) and plug them directly into the peripheral. Take for example my own case. I'm using an Antec ATC (forgot the model #). There is essentially a tall rack mount style shelving system in the case from the very top to the very bottom of the case that gives me much flexibility in where I can install my drives. I snaked the cables around this structure such that they coiled the structure and moved directly into where they needed to be. (I'm definitely going to need a way to host images to illustrate). Anyhow, I hope you get the general idea there.

IDE Cables
For those of us who have yet to use SATA and are still on IDE cables, I would suggest purchasing rounded IDE cables. Using the same "snaking" principle as the previous section, I would run these along side or at least, in the similar direction as the power cables. Using wire ties, I would tie the IDE's and power connectors together. The general idea is to bundle your cables up such that they form nice clean strands up and down the case to their appropriate devices. You do not want to have them free floating over the motherboard, which may block airflow to the CPU or the RAM but you also don’t want to bundle them up so thick that they prevent air from even getting through the case in the first place. You have to strike a balance between the two. But generally, there are many ways to hide cables in cases. Always check the side of the PSU next to motherboard side of the case for space to hide power cables and check for space behind the case panel as well to hang cables.

Cables in General
As with all the above, there are also other cables such as audio connectors and the like that also get cluttered. Isolate these cables and run them along the edge of the case to prevent them from hanging around over the board. These are usually more than long enough to do it. In my case, I actually run mine under my PCI cards before they exit alongside the case and then up the PSU, where they are strung along the edge some more to the CD and DVD drives.

Oh yes, another important thing! I cannot stress how important regular cleaning is! Many of us have our computers in living areas that are either carpeted or otherwise dusty for whatever reason. Dust definitely builds up over time! I would recommend dusting out your computer every 4-6 months! Dust particles can somtimes contain metal particles that can short your hardware! BAD BAD BAD! >.<

Anyhow, for cleaning, I would recommend using compressed air and spray dusting the thing while OUTSIDE. I don't know, some people I know get stupid and dust it indoors.... I don't know why. But please be careful when working around fans. The compressed air can sometimes cause the fan to fin at a rate that is higher than it can support, thus damaging the bearing. This can create excess rattling noise that cannot be repaired.

And for the dust that won't move out right, I would get a vacuum hose and go through it that way. Some people say the EM from the vacuum is bad, but I don't see any problems. I used vacuums regularly to clean up my comp and have never had any problems.

When cleaning, some of the most important places to clean are the corners of the case, the case fans, and the PSU! Of all places, the PSU probably accumulates the most dust. A vacuum hose and/or compressed air is the only way to dislodge the higher percentage of dust trapped in the PSU. This can really make a difference in temperatures in the PSU as well. Similarly, there is also usually a lot of dust buildup between each of your drive peripherals. I would recommend using compressed air to blow through and dust those out. Dust can also get in the drives too (CD/DVD), so it is handy to blow compressed air into those while the bay is open (a rougher approach), or just get a CD lense cleaning kit. Those are easy and fast to use. And floppy drives are quite infamous for dust as well! These drives are not sealed off as well as CD/DVD drives and accumulate dust like no tomorrow. Dust these guys out well!

Recommended Hardware
Just to be tacky, I would recommend using single colored neon LED fans with the front of the case. My case is all silver and now has a cool blue glow at night. The rest of the fans don’t need much color since you probably won’t see them.

I would also definitely recommend a PCI slot turbine fan. I usually place this next to the video card to circulate air directly from that outside. The video card these days is also a strong heat producer. As for the HSF, I would recommend the Zalman CNPS7000A-Cu, a very heavy, but quiet and strong performer. I’ve never used a better HSF in my life. However, you have to be careful with that one in that its sheer size makes it difficult to fit many motherboards. You have to check compatibility! And its weight also stresses the CPU and/or motherboard. With that in mind, if you ever get this HSF, make you sure have the motherboard firmly mounted with all the mounting screws on tight!

As for thermal compound, I would recommend Arctic Silver 5 as opposed to Ceramique. This gives you an extra 1*C to 2*C of cooling and is easier to apply and remove as needed. Ceramique is good only if you don’t plan on cleaning your HSF often or upgrading it. Once it is on the CPU, it is nearly impossible to clean off unless you have a lot of patience. It’s the thickest and most adherent material I’ve ever used. But it’s also a great performer.

Oh yeah, as for noise, the PSU is also a big factor in your system cooling. The PSU should be something of good quality like from Antec or Enermax. Quality is everything in that some PSU’s are developed using poor bearings that create a lot of noise when the fans run. Similarly, depending on how well the PSU regulates itself, it can also generate a lot of excess heat that can affect the rest of your system.

To sum things up …
The computer chassis has all sorts of hidden uses that most people are not aware of. Where there are mounting areas for drives and other peripherals, there are also hidden places to run wires. A lot of people forget that they can have as many fans as they want, but if their wires cover up all the critical areas that need the airflow (i.e. The CPU, RAM, and video card), the number of fans will have no effect on cooling. Always run cables along the edge of the case or behind drive mounting bays if possible and regularly use wire ties to keep things bundled tightly and cleanly away from the motherboard. There are all sorts of places to hide wires. I’ve even come into some cases where I had enough room to run all my electrical wires under the motherboard to the drives. Chassis wiring is an art and is fun. It’s a great way to be creative and extend the life of your peripherals by keeping them cool.

Anyway, if you ever want photos of anything I described in the above, please feel free to email me @

<--- updated 06.13.2004 --->

Here are photos of my case so you folks can use for reference.

Best Regards,
Chuck - Freelancer
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